Late last year, Facebook started rolling a facial recognition feature across the US. Now, the company has pushed the Tag Suggestions feature to countries outside of the US, but has switched it on by default without telling its users first. When you upload new photos, Facebook uses software similar to that found in many photo editing tools to match your new photos to other photos you're tagged in. Similar photos are grouped together and, whenever possible, Facebook suggests the name(s) your friend(s) in the photos.
When Facebook revealed last year it was introducing facial recognition technology to help users tag their friends in photographs, they gave the functionality to North American users only. Most of the rest of us found the option in our privacy settings was "not yet available", which meant we could neither enable or disable it. We simply had to wait until Facebook decided to roll it out to our account. Well, now might be a good time to check your Facebook privacy settings as many Facebook users are reporting that the site has enabled the option in the last few days without giving users any notice. There are billions of photographs on Facebook's servers. As your Facebook friends upload their albums, Facebook will try to determine if any of the pictures look like you.
<img src="http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/business/2011/06/facepalm-660x440.jpg" alt="" title="facepalm" width="660" height="440" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-36559" /> ANALYSIS — If you haven’t heard yet, Facebook hiked right into another privacy wetland this week, as it started rolling out its facial recognition technology to users outside of North America. The backlash, led by Graham Cluley blogging for the security firm Sophos , was fierce — and not altogether focused. European privacy regulators immediately began an inquiry – a bad sign for all since there’s little the E.U. does worse than investigate privacy issues (opt-in for even first party cookies , for example — notwithstanding that the E.U. actually has some decent smart rules about information privacy.) At issue is a feature that Facebook turns on by default.
Most of the commentary on Facebook’s new face-recognition strategy has been negative, with many folks posting instructions on how to opt out. I, on the other hand, think that Facebook may have come up with a great strategy for cutting the Gordian Knot on this thorny privacy problem. Face recognition is here to stay.